Edible Madras: Matcha Ice Cream and Ginger-Coconut Madeleines


Lilly Pulitzer and Hostess Sno-Balls have about as much in common as country clubs and gas stations, but both played a key part in my inspiration for today’s recipes. Since I started this blog, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the way my food looks. I always knew presentation was important and have made efforts to make my dishes look just as good as they taste, but it was never the first thing I thought about when conceiving and planning new recipes. This all changed once a camera became part of my kitchen arsenal; shooting has quite literally given me a new viewpoint when it comes to preparing my dishes, and it is hard to ignore the lessons learned when crouching in odd corners of the kitchen trying to capture that perfect angle.

Today’s dessert is just as much about color as it is about flavor. I’ve been planning to make matcha ice cream for a few days now--ever since I picked up a package of the gorgeous ground tea powder at the Japanese grocer. That same afternoon I purchased a quart of fresh cream from the dairy vendor at the farmer’s market near NYU. The cream comes in old-fashioned glass bottles and is shaken up just enough so that when you open the seal and remove the cap, you find a thick layer of fresh whipped cream floating on top. I usually scoop it out with my finger and lick it off slowly, relishing the taste of what is quite possibly one of the most incredible natural treats available. This cream served nicely in a custard base for my matcha ice cream—three egg yolks, a bit of sugar, a cup of warm water, and ground tea comprising the rest of the ingredients for this simple and yet incredibly rich dessert.

The green of the matcha tea reminded me of the bright green tones in the famous preppy designer’s apparel. It was practically screaming for me to pair it with something pink! I decided that a few drops of food coloring added to my coconut financier recipe would do the trick and work as a sort of sophisticated Sno-Ball.

With this, my plan seemed complete. That is, until my eyes fell upon the giant pound of ginger root that was still waiting patiently on my countertop to be converted into tea and stir-fry. The flavors would meld perfectly with the Asian theme and would serve to brighten the earthiness of the green tea ice cream. I decided to peel and slice a quarter cup of root and add it to the simmering, browning butter (beurre noisette) so as to infuse it with the spicy ginger flavor.
This proved genius as it infused not only the butter, but my entire apartment with an incredible spicy aroma. Once brown and nutty flavored, I strained the hot butter and let cool before adding to the coconut flour batter. The ingredients were reminiscent of Thai dishes, and left me wishing I had some lemongrass on hand to round out the flavors. The cookies baked quickly, and I cannot even begin to explain the sheer perfection of the moist coconut and ginger combination.



Matcha Ice Cream
The tannins in the tea temper the sweetness of this pretty green ice cream, making for a pleasant, but subtle flavor. It makes an ideal end to a heavy meal. If you would like a more pronounced green tea flavor, feel free to add an extra teaspoon or two of matcha to the base.

Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar or substitute
4 tablespoons matcha (ground Japanese green tea)

1. Bring cream, water, and salt to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in matcha until dissolved.. Remove from heat.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until creamy colored. Slowly pour in 1 cup hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking vigorously until completely blended.

3. Whisk egg/cream mixture into the remaining cream in the saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon. This happens quickly—probably in about 5 to 7 minutes.

4. Immediately pour the custard through a fine sieve to remove any particles or tea lumps.

5. Cool the custard to room temperature, then cover and place in the fridge to chill until cold.

6. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.


Ginger-Coconut Madeleines
Tuck one of each color with a scoop of ice cream or even just alone. The cookies bake quickly but need to be cooled, so you can start on them while you wait for your ice cream to freeze and both should be ready to eat at the same time. Whatever you do, I suggest doubling or tripling the recipe as these are the kinds of cookies that will disappear within moments.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for buttering
1 cup unsweetened coconut flour
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
¼ cup peeled and sliced fresh ginger
6 large egg whites
3/4 cup butter
red food coloring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

1. With a pastry brush, use the 2 tablespoons of melted butter to thoroughly butter the madeleine pan then place in the freezer to solidify the butter.

2. To make the beurre noisette: In a small saucepan, place ¾ cups of butter plus the sliced ginger to simmer over low heat. The butter will begin to foam after a few minutes and then the solids will separate. Stir it a bit and allow to remain on the heat until the butter turns a lovely golden brown color and gives off a nutty, spicy aroma. Strain the browned butter to remove the ginger and the butter solids and then let cool to room temperature. If you’d like, you can use this butter to add another layer to the pan (and then freeze again).

2. In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, sugar, flour, and salt. Mix a few times to combine thoroughly. Add the egg whites and mix until completely blended--this part will take a bit of elbow grease as the egg whites have a tendency to slip around all over the place.

3. Add the 3/4 cup of browned butter, and mix until completely blended. No butter should be visible on the sides. (Note that the batter will be pretty thin.)

4. Divide the batter into two bowls. Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl and stir in.

4. Spoon the batter into the madeleine shells about 3/4 of the way up, leaving just a tiny bit to rise. Place the filled pan in the center of the oven. Bake until the cookies just being to rise, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400°F. Bake until the financier are golden brown around the edges and begin to firm up, about another 5 minutes.

5. Turn off the oven heat and let the madeleine rest in the oven until firm, about another 5 to 7 minutes.

6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the madeleines cool in the molds for 10 minutes. Unmold.

The madeleine may be stored in an airtight container for several days, but really do taste much better right away (even if they're still a little bit warm!)

Making Mochi

I first tasted mochi about a year ago when a friend who has been living in Tokyo brought me a box filled with different flavors. At the time, he didn't specify that it was mochi, referring to it only as a "box of weird Japanese candy for your family." When we opened the box the next day, we were all a bit puzzled by the dusty pastel lumps found inside. We took turns tasting the various types, alternately chewing and grimacing and spitting it out after a few seconds.

"This is gross," said my brother, never one to mince words. "Why would he bring us such weird candy?"

My parents were equally puzzled (albeit less rude) and turned away after a couple minutes, preferring the familiar sweetness of the Godiva this friend had also brought.

While I admit that I didn't love the way the candy tasted either, I was fascinated with the texture. I love chewy, squooshy things. My brother is regularly grossed out by the way that I tend to play with my food when I think that nobody is watching--hollowing out a loaf of bread and squishing the doughy mass into a tight little ball or emptying out the filling of a truffle and licking it off my finger before eating the shell. I love getting my hands dirty with food; I have no qualms about plunging my hands into raw turkeys or kneading sticky piles of flour and eggs into pasta dough. It's probably also why I love Silly Putty and Play-Doh, and why I was always getting in trouble for stealing that gummy blue putty tape that my elementary school teachers used to stick posters to the wall.

Given these proclivities, it's no wonderf I've spent the past few weeks intrigued with the idea of making my own mochi. My friend Matt is obsessed with mochi ice cream and regularly sends me e-mails and IMs that say little more than "Mochi is just so wonderful." I'd been plotting to teach myself to make it so that I can surprise him with a little tray of homemade mochi ice cream balls when he comes to visit me next month. My impromptu expedition to the Japanese grocery store last weekend proved to be the perfect way to get started on Project Homemade Mochi.

I decided to start by teaching myself to make daifuku--a round ball of mochi stuffed with Anko, a sweet red bean paste made from azuki beans. I'd never tasted it before, but had seen various pictures on the web (particularly this lovely shot from Kyoto Foodie). I love the lumpy squooshy look of it and was excited to get started. Of course, Alejandra being Alejandra, I didn't really bother to find a recipe before hitting the store. One would think that no recipe + everything in a foreign language would make for an unsuccessful trip, but not for me! Using what bits I'd read about what mochi is and my memory of the taste, I haphazardly selected ingredients that seemed like they might be right: rice flour, a package of sweetened red bean paste, confectioner's sugar, and some tapioca starch. I lucked out as this plus water and food coloring was really all I needed.

When I got home I searched online for mochi recipes. They all seemed to follow a similar pattern, but varied in amounts and ratios. Most advised using the microwave as a quick way to cook the dough, but few other instructions were clear. Bored and eager to get in the kitchen, I decided to just wing it.

In a large bowl I mixed equal parts rice flour (I used dango-ko, which is a mix of glutinous and non-glutinous rice flour and--rather fortuitously--seems to be the kind best suited for microwave preparation) and tepid water. To this I added powdered sugar, a few drops of red food coloring, and some almond extract (just because I'm obsessed). I processed with a hand blender until smooth and then poured into a Pyrex pie dish that I covered and placed in the microwave.
While the dough cooked, I rolled little balls out of chilled sweetened red bean paste and dusted everything with starch in anticipation of the sticky dough. After letting it cool a bit I dusted my hands with starch and scooped some out. Molding it was easy: I simply rolled a ball out of the mochi dough then flattened it out a bit on the floured mat. I plopped a ball of red bean paste in the center and then pulled up the sides of the mochi dough like a little bag (it reminded me of making Beggar's Purses back at school). I pinched the top and then rolled around in my hands until smooth on all sides. I repeated this about a dozen times. It was easy, but sticky and messy (my favorite!).

After shooting them, I covered them with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge. I had one for breakfast this morning and it was delicious. The gooey mochi dough had a subtle sweetness and a faint hint of almond, and the red bean paste was oozed out in a creamy contrast to the stickiness of the mochi. If you've never tried red bean paste before, it literally tastes like sweet refried beans--but it's good!

I'm not sure if it's just because I made them to my tastes or if my palate has just changed over the past year, but I can honestly say that I loved these treats. I'll be tackling the ice cream version next--possibly with my own homemade green tea ice cream!

A Few Helpful Tips:
1. Dust EVERYTHING with tapioca (or potato or corn) starch: the surface, your hands, spoons, plates. This dough is incredibly sticky and it's the only way to handle it.

2. I tend to have naturally cold hands--a huge benefit when working with chocolate and confections, but if you are naturally warm-handed, I would suggest washing with very cold water before you get started. It will keep the dough from sticking as much.

3. Play around with extracts or food colors--I don't think that it's exactly traditional, but it gives the final treats a great look and taste. I started out with just a few drops of red, but then decided I wanted them to be hot pink so I threw in a bit more and loved the final look. I'm excited to try out other color combinations.

4. Blow off the extra starch before eating--you'll want to keep it nice and dusty for storing, but as it's tasteless, it takes away from the experience.
Daifuku--Anko-stuffed Mochi
Daifuku literally means "great luck" in Japanese. Apparently, the word fuku means both "belly" and "luck." It seems that the original meaning of big belly, which referred to the filling nature of the confection, evolved over the years to mean a bringer of good fortune. When I first read this, I instantly thought that the belly part referred to the fact that the daifuku actually look like little bellies. I've taken to calling them "chubby belly cakes" in my head--but that's just me... ;)

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup Dango-ko rice flour
1 1/2 cup tepid water
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar (feel free to adjust according to personal preference)
1 package or can of sweetened Anko (red bean paste), refrigerated to keep firm.
food coloring (optional)
almond extract (optional)
tapioca, potato, or corn starch for dusting and controlling the sticky dough

You will also need a microwave and a flat microwavable dish such as a deep-dish pie plate.

1. In a large bowl, mix the rice flour, sugar, and water until smooth. You may need to use a hand blender or mixer to make sure there aren't any lumps.

2. If desired, add drops of food coloring and/or extract and mix in thoroughly. Note that the batter will be quite thin--very similar to pancake batter in consistency.

3. Pour batter into a shallow microwavable dish and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 4 minutes. Remove dish and pull off plastic to release steam. Stir the mix until smooth again (it will be cooked in some parts and not in others so don't worry if it looks uneven). Microwave again for another 3 to 5 minutes until the top is dry.

4. While mix cooks, take out the refrigerated bean paste and roll into small balls about the size of a chocolate truffle. Dust your hands with starch or confectioner's sugar to keep from sticking.

5. Remove mochi dough from microwave and let cool for several minutes. You can speed this up by pounding it with a flour-covered pestle until shiny and smooth.

6. To Mold: taking one heaping tablespoon of dough out of the dish and place in your starch-covered hands. Work into a circle and then flatten on the floured board. Drop a ball of red bean paste inside and the pull mochi around the edges like a little purse. Pinch the top shut and then use your hand to smooth into a soft round shape. Dust with additional starch and set aside. Repeat this process until you use up all the mochi.

Cover finished Daifuku tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate to store (or freeze). Serve and enjoy much the way you would any other cookie or small cake.


Spicy Roasted Cauliflower with Italian Imported Tuna


When I decided to lower my carb intake about three months ago, I needed something to fill the void left by the lack of potatoes. I quickly figured out that cauliflower is an incredibly versatile potato substitute. For Thanksgiving I even served it mashed and whipped with roasted garlic, grated pecorino, butter, and a bit of cream. It was so creamy and smooth that my dad actually told me that he "loved the mashed potatoes."

I'd been planning on making a similar mash tonight to serve with some beef stew, but when I got home I was so hungry that I decided to quickly roast them in the oven instead. I washed and chopped them into florets then coated them with olive oil, cracked pepper, coarse sea salt, and some Asian chili oil (for a little kick). I popped them in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. I would stir them up once about 10 minutes into cooking just to make sure they roast evenly. You'll know they are ready when the cauliflower turns a golden brown with the edges just starting to crisp.

While they roasted, I threw together a simple tuna salad using imported Italian canned tuna (yellowtail packed in olive oil--I refuse to eat anything else), a bit of salt, pepper, some fresh thyme, and a squeeze of fresh blood orange juice drizzled on top. The Italian canned tuna is so flavorful straight from the can that it really doesn't need much else to dress it up. I highly recommend trying it out if you haven't yet. The secret to imported tuna is that its usually packed right on the docks before it has a chance to dry in the sun a bit. This keeps it from getting that "fishy" flavor that we are used to with conventional brands of canned tuna. The yellowtail also has a much lighter flavor and the olive oil makes it taste all the more rich. If you can't find the real imported kind (which is usually at least 4 times as expensive as domestic), I would suggest trying the Genova brand "Tonno." It's manufactured by Chicken of the Sea, but is branded to look Italian (which I find a bit sketchy), but I have to admit that it's pretty good for American tuna and is probably the most widely available--and also not quite as pricey.

If you eat bread, I would suggest getting a good thick piece of crusty whole grain bread or perhaps some ciabatta to soak up the extra oil from the tuna. I admit that this might seem like a bit of an odd dish, but the spicy sweetness of the cauliflower really contrasts well with the salty tuna, and the blood orange adds a nice depth.

Pink Noodles and Super Mayonnaise: Shopping at the Sunrise Mart


In the movie Hook, (yes, that Robin Williams debacle) there is a scene where Peter and the Lost Boys sit around a table with rumbling tummies and empty plates dreaming up the delicious treats they wish they could be eating. Their imaginations are so strong that it isn't long before the plates are piled high with cakes and meats and strangely colored porridges that they wolf down and flick across the table at each other as lost boys are wont to do. I've been thinking about that scene quite a bit lately since I started browsing the magnificent food por(n)tal, Tastespotting, during my lunch hour. I find myself wishing that, like Robin and the lost boys, I could will my average work cafeteria meals into some of the incredible dishes that stream by on that site.

I go there for inspiration, ideas, and pure entertainment. I'm completely dazzled by some of the images I see pop up and am quite proud to have had a couple of my own (mediocre) photos included in the line-up. While browsing the site a few days ago, my eyes were immediately drawn to a gorgeous bouquet of pink noodles. I followed the link to Cake Wardrobe's blog where I read her post about finding these ume plum udon noodles among the racks at a cool Japanese grocery store located around the corner from St. Mark's Place. Her descriptions were so exciting that I instantly decided to pay the market a visit.

I went on Sunday. After brunch with a friend in Chelsea, I made my way east towards the village. I had very vague directions, (only the name of the store and that it was "near St. Mark's Place.") and so it took a bit of wandering before I finally stumbled around a corner and found myself at the entrance to the Sunrise Mart.

The store is located at 4 Stuyvesant Street, right above the St. Mark's Bookshop. You have to take an elevator to the second floor and the moment the doors open, it's as if you've left New York. The store bustles with people: older Japanese men and women shopping slowly, NYU hipsters loading up on candy and fresh sushi, and a disproportionately high number of mom's pushing baby strollers (seriously, it's like a Japanese Park Slope in there). Even though I told myself that I was only there to buy some of those pink ume noodles, I somehow found myself reaching for a basket and checking to make sure they accept credit cards (they do). The basket filled up quickly, as I indiscriminately tossed in anything that struck my fancy. As everything is labeled in Japanese, it's almost impossible to know what you're buying without reading the mandatory English nutritional labels stuck over the back of everything (thank you FDA), but even then it's kind of a guessing game.

I love puzzles, so it was just the thing to get the ideas flowing. "I'll make green tea ice cream!" I thought as I threw in a pricey bag of ground Matcha powder. I followed the Matcha with a pound of ginger root, a bag of fiery-looking dried chiles, some rice flour and red bean paste to make daifuku (mochi cakes filled with red bean paste--an idea inspired by the cute little PacMan-like mochi on Peko's Kyoto Foodie blog). Never having actually tasted daifuku before, I made sure to pick out a plump little premade one from the fridge to serve as a guide. I also grabbed a little package of quail eggs (a dozen for two dollars--Whole Foods sells them at 1 dollar each), a package of pink noodles, and a little box of gorgeous cherry blossom tea that "blooms" when you pour hot water over it. From the snack aisle I picked out a box of chocolate candy sticks and a plastic container full of teriyaki flavored nori snacks. The item that I am most excited about, however, was found in the refrigerated section in the back: a squooshy squeeze bottle of "Super Mayonnaise." Super! Mayo! And it comes with a star tip! I'm already giddy about the possibilities...


The Details:

Sunrise Mart

Japanese Specialty Foods

4 Stuyvesant Street, Second floor
New York City, NY 10003

Hours:
11a-10p

Coconut Financier-Madeleines: A Tale of Two Teacakes



I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the first madeleine I ever tasted was purchased from a display next to the register at Starbucks. It was an impulse buy; an afterthought selected only because I didn't have cash and felt bad charging just two dollars for a cup of tea.

"And these too," I said, grabbing a package and waving them at the barrista.

I was with my best friends Matt and Vanessa that night. We had been walking home from a movie and stopped in to escape the bitter winter cold. Crowded around one of those little round tables decorated with pseudo-poetry and pictures of mermaids, we talked about the film while I nonchalantly ripped into the package and took a bite.

My reaction was immediate. No sooner had the cake touched my tongue, than (like Proust before me) "a shudder ran through my whole body."

"These are amazing!" I exclaimed. "Oh my God. This is the most delicious thing I've ever tasted! They must be new!" I held the little cakes up to my face, examining the buttery nooks and gently squeezing the perfect little mound on top.

Matt, no stranger to a pastry himself, gave me a bit of a bored look.
"They're Starbucks madeleines, Alejandra. They sell them in every single Starbucks across the country, quite possibly the world."

"Well, I've never seen them before," I replied, and promptly went to purchase a second package to take home with me for further evaluation.

That night, I Googled madeleines and discovered things that as an English major I should have probably already known. The next day I went to the bookstore and bought a book on French baking and the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. The subsequent weeks were spent reading Proust, skipping class, and baking dozens of batches of madeleines. I've since worked out my own recipes for both traditional and flavored madeleines, but I admit that I still can't pass up those tasty prepackaged Starbucks ones. I can't pinpoint why, but they make me feel good; perhaps a case of involuntary memory?

The second teacake entered my world by way of an entirely different sense: sight. For weeks, I lusted after the petite little golden cakes in the display window of the patisserie near my old office. They were tiny, oval-shaped treats with just a dot of chocolate in the center and a funny little name (the financier). A devoted fan of the pistachio macarons at this same cafe, I had to make a choice and the macarons always won. It was a couple months before I decided to finally indulge my curiosity. I bought two, and could barely wait to get back to the office before tasting it.

I should have waited.

I'd never been so disappointed in something that looked so good. I'd expected almonds, a nutty butter flavor, and a light spongy texture. What I got was bland, oily, and oddly crumbly. This financier could not have been further from my fantasies. I could not shake the idea, however, that something was wrong and made note to look into it further.

Fast-forward one year. My recent culinary acquisition, my Cuisinart ice cream maker, has made for some fantastic experimentation, but has left me with one problem: extra egg whites. Searching online for answers besides the obvious (egg white omelets, angel food, meringue), I discovered a recipe for financier. The ingredients were fairly straightforward; in addition to the whites, the recipe called for ground almonds, beurre noisette (melted and slightly browned butter), confectioner's sugar, and just a hint of flour. It was the perfect solution to my delicious problem.

Not one to stick to the rules, I decided to swap the almonds (which I don't have) for dessicated coconut flour (which I do). Financier are traditionally baked in special molds, which are rectangular in shape (thus explaining the name: the traditional financier looks like a bar of gold, hence "banker's cake"). I don't own these (yet), so I decided to use my madeleine pan. I'm sure they would work perfectly in muffin tins, as well.

A few helpful tips:
  • Make sure to use the melted butter/freezer method of buttering the pan, as opposed to simply spraying or spraying and flouring the pan. The solidified butter helps the cakes pop out easily and imparts a lovely golden crust.

  • Immediately after taking the tray out of the oven, use a butter knife to push any little crust that has risen over the edge away from the pan and towards the cake. As they will still be a little soft, the crust will become part of the cake and not harden onto the tray. You should notice the madeleines loosening in the shell when you do this.
  • Resist the temptation to remove from the pan right away, but if you do, place on a tray shell-side down. The top part is still very sticky at this point and will stick to whatever plate/tray (even each other) it touches. Once cool, you can arrange them with the pretty shells above for presentation purposes.

  • Dip them! These little teacakes were made for dipping. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate--it soaks them up and they seem to melt in your mouth.




Coconut Financier-Madeleines
These are best eaten freshly baked, but can be brought back to life with a quick zap in the microwave. Please note that the baking time will have to be adjusted depending on the size and depth of the mold that you use. In patisseries, financier are traditionally sold with a dot of fruit,chocolate, or an almond tucked in the center. Mine are plain so as to not compete with the fluted pan, but feel free to decorate as you'd like!

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for buttering
2 madeleine or financier trays
1 cup unsweetened coconut flour
1 2/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon almond extract
6 large egg whites
3/4 cup beurre noisette or regular unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

1. With a pastry brush, use the 2 tablespoons of melted butter to thoroughly butter the madeleine pan then place in the freezer to solidify the butter.

2. In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, sugar, flour, and salt. Mix a few times to combine thoroughtly. Add the egg whites and mix until completely blended--this part will take a bit of elbow grease as the egg whites have a tendency to slip around all over the place.

3. Add the extract and the 3/4 cup butter, and mix until completely blended. No butter should be visible on the sides. (Note that the batter will be pretty thin.)

4. Spoon the batter into the madeleine shells about 3/4 of the way up, leaving just a tiny bit to rise. Place the filled pan in the center of the oven. Bake until the financier just being to rise, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400°F. Bake until the financier are a light, golden brown and begin to firm up, about another 5 minutes.

5. Turn off the oven heat and let the financier rest in the oven until firm, about another 5 to 7 minutes.

6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the financier cool in the molds for 10 minutes. Unmold.

The financier may be stored in an airtight container for several days, but really do taste much better right away (even if they're still a little bit warm!)

Meyer Lemon Custard Ice Cream


What do you do when you have two big juicy Meyer lemons and a craving for something creamy and sweet? Well, if you are anything like me, you make ice cream! A rich, lemony custard serves as the base for this lovely dessert. Try and use the ripest Meyer lemons that you can find; the juice will be even sweeter. And if you're looking for something to serve the ice cream with, make sure you save your egg whites and try it with my Coconut Financier-Madeleines.


Meyer Lemon Custard Ice Cream
Instead of grating the lemon zest for the infusion, I sliced off large pieces with a potato peeler and left them in. The peel candied in the custard and made for a great little flavor surprise in the finished dessert. They look pretty too!

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar (or Splenda if you're low-carbing it!)
Zest of one whole Meyer lemon, peeled into strips
Pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
1 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice


1. Combine the cream, lemon peel, salt, and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to just a boil and let simmer for a few minutes to infuse the cream with the scent of the lemon peel.

2. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks until creamy in color.

3. Temper the eggs by slowly trickling in a portion of the cream mixture, stirring until well blended. This will warm up the eggs slowly so that they don't scramble when you pour into the hot cream. Pour the egg cream mixture back into the saucepan containing the rest of the cream, stirring continuously.

4. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. (About 7 minutes.)

5. When ready, remove from flame, pour into a clean bowl, and stir in the Meyer lemon juice. Let cool for a few minutes and then place in refrigerator to chill. (Or the freezer, if you're impatient like I am!)

5. Once cool, pour the chilled custard into your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instruction.

The ice cream will be thicker than most. It actually is quite perfect straight from the ice cream maker, but can be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to a week. Note that it will likely freeze very hard due to the high fat content of the cream (yum...), so be sure to take it out a couple minutes before serving. This recipe can be easily converted to low-carb with the substitution of Splenda for the sugar.

In which Alejandra goes to the grocery store and discovers a new kind of mutant lettuce


The wind was biting when I left the office today so I skipped my usual six-block walk to Whole Foods, and instead popped into the nearby Morton Williams. For those of you who don't live in New York City, you should know that the grocery stores in Manhattan are a dismal lot. The big specialty stores, like Whole Foods are wonderful, but twice as expensive and always packed to the gills. The other stores—Gristedes, C-Town, D’Agostinos—all seem to exist in constant states of disarray, with employees perpetually restocking, sweeping, mopping, and doing just about anything they can to make the shopping experience as inconvenient as possible.

The Morton Williams near my office isn’t as bad as some of the others, but I’m completely puzzled by their stock. They boast an olive oil and imported Italian product selection enviable of most gourmet specialty stores. They sell just about every kind of ice cream flavor known to man (Acai Berry! Mexican Chocolate! Pinot Noir!). They even have an entire aisle devoted to British products like tea, Cadburys chocolates, and two different kinds of Marmite (ugh). And yet, they always seem to lack the most basic of products. Necessities like milk, toilet paper, and sour cream seem to never be available.

But perhaps this is the reason why I actually enjoy this store. I am not a quick food shopper. I browse supermarkets much like I do bookstores: going around and around the same aisles surveying my options and usually leaving with much more than I planned to buy. I rarely shop with a list or preset recipe in mind, preferring to base my meals on whatever is in season or simply strikes my fancy. It’s a creative process (an adventure, even) to walk into the store knowing that I have a completely blank slate on which to experiment.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the oddball products on the grocery shelves; the dusty, imperfect things found up high or way down low, all but obscured from plain view. Morton Williams is perfect for this with its weirdo stock. Somewhere in the back of my head I seem to have decided that any items produced outside of the US must be better than their American counterparts. For this reason, I regularly come home with bags full of slightly more expensive imported products like unsalted Danish butter in lopsided little bricks, slightly dented cans of Israeli tuna, and jars of clotted cream covered with tiny British flag stickers.

Accustomed to strange little discoveries in the inner aisles, I was surprised to be surprised in an entirely new part of the store today: the produce section. There, nestled among the tightly cellophaned balls of iceberg lettuce and the lush, wet bouquets of romaine, was a plastic clamshell package containing what it proudly proclaimed to be a: “New Lettuce!”

"A NEW lettuce?!" I thought. I had no idea they were still making new lettuces! It's called “Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce,” and claims to be the “Best of Iceberg and the Best of Romaine.” I stared at this for a while. Turning the package over and over in my hands, trying to figure out the magic behind Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce. I’d never really seen a trademarked lettuce before, so that was exciting in itself.

At 5 dollars a pop, Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce is twice as expensive as the other kinds, which I suppose is what one would expect of mutant lettuce. There were several packages on display, all baring a “Best By 1/24” stamp on them. Checking my watch for the date, I suddenly grew a little concerned for the Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce, picturing it meeting an early demise in a stinky Hell’s Kitchen dumpster. I thought, "that’s no way for Cosmopolitan ™ lettuce to end its days."

So I rescued it. I adopted the Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce, vowing to bring it home and bathe it in Meyer lemon cilantro dressing and serve topped with pieces of spicy, citrus marinated flank steak and avocado.

So that’s exactly what I did.

A bit more about Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce*:
I may have purchased this wierdo x-lettuce out of some kind of strange sense of yuppie food guilt, but I can honestly say that I’m glad I did. The lettuce really does bring together the best parts of iceberg and romaine—the crispness of the former with the sweet, leafy flavor of the romaine.

The leaves are long, and almost taco-shaped, so they work perfectly for wraps or sandwiches. (Ideal for the low-carber who can't eat bread.) The crisp leaf holds its shape really well even when stuffed with steak and avocado (like I did), and the flavor really is a cut above.

Though a bit overpriced, I would still recommend trying it out. I couldn’t help thinking that the smaller inside pieces would be great with dips or fillings as an hors d’oeuvres.


Meyer Lemon Marinated Flank Steak with Lemon Cilantro Dressing in Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce Wraps
This recipe would work just as well as a normal salad, but I wanted to see just how much these Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce wraps could hole. The answer is a lot. Please note that the flax seed in this recipe is completely optional--I just like to toss it in everything as it's an amazing source of fiber and also adds a lovely (and subtle) nutty crunch.

Ingredients
1/2 lb flank steak
1 bunch of cilantro with stems cut off
2 Meyer lemons, juiced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of pine nuts or almonds
3 tablespoons of ground flax seed (optional)
2 cloves garlic
course sea salt
black pepper
Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce leaves (or other kind of lettuce)
1/2 large avocado
3 tablespoons homemade or packaged mayonnaise


1. In a food processor, puree the cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, nuts, and flax seed. Season to taste with course salt and freshly ground pepper. The final mixture should resemble a loose pesto in texture, with a brighter (almost neon) shade of green.

2. Set aside about a third of the dressing. This will be used at the end to dress your salad so keep away from the raw meat. The rest of the dressing will be your marinade. Place the steak in a glass dish and pour the marinade over. Let marinate for at least 45 minutes, covered, in the refrigerator.

3. Broil the steak for approximately 5 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. After removing from the oven, let sit for a few minutes (covered) so that the juices sink in. While waiting, mix the portion of dressing you originally set aside with the mayonnaise (or sour cream if you prefer).

4. When ready, slice the steak thinly against the grain (meaning perpendicular to the natural lines of the meat), and pile into your lettuce leaves. Top with a few cubes of avocado and drizzle on the dressing according to taste.

Enjoy!

That which rips your heart with joy

This poem has been a favorite of mine since I saw Tom Lux read it at the Waterloo Poetry Festival in 2000. I've never been able to get over the way he seemed to roll over the word "Maraschino." Something about the way he said it--it was like he could taste it and he could make you taste it too. You could just about see the bright red cherry rolling around in his mouth as he read. For me, this poem has always represented the most perfect example of language about food. It's been on my brain ever since I started this blog, so I knew that it was time to finally share.


Refrigerator, 1957

More like a vault -- you pull the handle out
and on the shelves: not a lot,
and what there is (a boiled potato
in a bag, a chicken carcass
under foil) looking dispirited,
drained, mugged. This is not
a place to go in hope or hunger.
But, just to the right of the middle
of the middle door shelf, on fire, a lit-from-within red,
heart red, sexual red, wet neon red,
shining red in their liquid, exotic,
aloof, slumming
in such company: a jar
of maraschino cherries. Three-quarters
full, fiery globes, like strippers
at a church social. Maraschino cherries, maraschino,
the only foreign word I knew. Not once
did I see these cherries employed: not
in a drink, nor on top
of a glob of ice cream,
or just pop one in your mouth. Not once.
The same jar there through an entire
childhood of dull dinners -- bald meat,
pocked peas and, see above,
boiled potatoes. Maybe
they came over from the old country,
family heirlooms, or were status symbols
bought with a piece of the first paycheck
from a sweatshop,
which beat the pig farm in Bohemia,
handed down from my grandparents
to my parentsto be someday mine,
then my child's?
They were beautiful
and, if I never ate one,
it was because I knew it might be missed
or because I knew it would not be replaced
and because you do not eat
that which rips your heart with joy.

Thomas Lux

Glazed Meyer Lemon Nut Cake (The Results & The Recipe)

I was a little bit worried about this caked. It looked beautiful, but I wasn't convinced that the flavor combination of hazelnuts, coconut, and Meyer lemon was exactly right. Well, I was proven wrong! I brought both cakes into work with me last week (the flourless chocolate hazelnut torte and the Meyer lemon cake), and both were big hits.

My coworkers were divided on which they preferred. The lemon cake disappeared first, but I got more requests for the chocolate torte recipe. I'm convinced that the lemon cake works best a day or even two after it's been baked. The flavors blend in with each other and seem to mellow out in a way that is really quite perfect. I was surprised by how prominent the coconut flavor was--everyone noticed it right away. And like me on the first night, nobody could believe that neither one of the recipes contained any flour!

I haven't had the chance to try it yet, but I'm willing to bet that the lemon cake will go from "great" to "WOW!" if the hazelnuts are switched out for almonds. I encourage you guys to try it out and let me know what you think... (And feel free to send me your mediocre pics!)

Now for the recipe:

Glazed Meyer Lemon Nut Cake (100% flourless)This cake tastes better the second or third day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld. If you can, try and make it at least the day before then store in an air-tight container at room temp. Glaze just before serving (otherwise the glaze will melt).
Ingredients:2 cups almond or hazelnut meal
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flour
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (approximately 2 Meyer lemons)
Rind of 1 Meyer lemon
1 cup sugar or equivalent substitute
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
6 medium eggs
1/2 cup olive oil

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

1.Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9" round or springform pan.

2. Combine the nuts, lemon rind, sugar (or substitute), salt, and baking powder in an electric mixer or food processor and pulse a few times until any lumps are broken up.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the oil and lemon juice. Continue to mix at high speed for a couple minutes to work some air into the batter--it should grow in size a bit.

4. Pour into your greased pan and place in the oven. The baking time will vary depending on your oven and the humidity in the environment. Start checking it about 30 minutes into baking. It will be ready when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. When ready to glaze, mix the powdered sugar, water, and Meyer lemon juice together until smooth. Drizzle all over the cake and allow to set. Serve immediately after glazing or cover with a loose cake cover (plastic wrap will only make the glaze melt or flake away--think Krispy Kremes at the bottom of the box. Yummy, just not as pretty.)

Glazed Meyer Lemon Nut Cake

It's citrus season! At the grocery store tonight, I went a little crazy throwing blood oranges and Meyer Lemons into my basket, giddy with the possibilities. The scent of the fruit tickled my nose the entire subway ride home.

If you're not familiar with the Meyer Lemon, you need to stop reading and head to your nearest grocery store right now. Larger, rounder, and with a slightly more orange hue than the conventional lemon, the Meyer Lemon originated in China, where it's believed to have derived from the Mandarin orange. The skin of the Meyer is thinner, making for a softer and juicier fruit, but what stands out above all is its enticing fragrance. It's a sweet, citrus smell with earthy undertones; I've always thought it resembled a blend of oranges and Christmas trees.

Much sweeter than the regular lemon, Meyers are ideal for use in desserts. I'm planning to whip up a Meyer Lemon ice cream at some point in the next couple days, but I couldn't resist playing around with it tonight. While at the store I also picked up a bag of ground almond meal and happened to come across some organic coconut flour. While I've read quite a bit about coconut flour, I'd never actually seen it at the store before. In fact, the only reason I found it today is because I dropped something and so happened to look into that last shelf. There were piles of coconut flour bags and only two dollars each (much more economical than the 14 dollar almond meal). I grabbed a couple, with the intent to experiment with it this weekend.

On the train home I started thinking about the torte I made last night. I decided to use the same basic recipe, replacing the cocoa powder with coconut flour and exchanging a half cup of Meyer lemon juice for the water. A little lemon rind for color and additional flavor, and presto! Torta di Limone!

The cake that came out of the oven was lovely and moist, but not quite as fluffy as the chocolate torte. I was pleased with the golden color of the crust, but still felt it needed a little extra something. I decided on a glaze, borrowing Peabody's recipe from her gorgeous post about Meyer Lemon Madeleines.

I made a tiny version for tasting purposes and am still on the fence about it. I think the problem is with the hazelnuts. While fantastic with cocoa, they feel a bit too overpowering in this recipe. I want the lemons to be the main event here, but right now they're getting lost beneath the strong hazelnut flavor. I was tempted to try again using almond meal, but it was already so late that I resisted. (I don't sleep much as is, and baking three cakes in one night is definitely pushing it.)

Take two will have to wait for tomorrow. I'm not going to post the recipe yet as I still need to tweak it. I think I'll bring the cake into work tomorrow to see what people think and then go from there...

UPDATE: From the LA Times, 100 Things to do with Meyer Lemons

Also coming up in the next couple days:
  • Blood Oranges in Italy!
  • My answer to a reader question about buying and preparing fish...
  • And a special recipe from a secret Guest blogger!
Stay tuned!
**And for those of you on Facebook:
Join the Always Order Dessert Facebook group! (Note that you must be logged into your account to see the page)

Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte


After writing yesterday's post about the difference between tarts and tortes, I had a hard time getting both out of my head. When I got home from dinner tonight, I could resist no more and decided to poke around in my kitchen to see what I could throw together. I've been promising the girls at work that I would bring in a treat for them soon so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to try something new (as if I need more excuses for random late-night baking).

A bag of hazelnut meal that I had been keeping in my freezer since Thanksgiving was the inspiration for this light, flourless torte with just a hint of nutty crunch. The ingredients are few and simple (ground hazelnuts, good cocoa powder, olive oil, sugar, vanilla, and eggs), and the process is very quick. And I mean really quick... I was enjoying my slice about an hour after I decided I wanted to bake something.

The decadent secret behind this deceptive little torte? Olive Oil. (Shhh...)

I started using olive oil in my baking out of laziness, really. I was baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies one day when I realized that I'd run out of butter. Not wanting to run out to the store to buy some, I decided to experiment with a bottle of olive oil I had sitting on the counter. The end result was incredible--moister, and with an additional layer of flavor that I was definitely not expecting, but am now completely unwilling to give up.

If this is your first time baking with olive oil, you might be wondering what kind. It's really up to you. A light olive oil with a mild flavor could be a good start if you're concerned about the flavor notes being too distinct. Personally, I go straight for the strong stuff. For this recipe, I used very fruity Tuscan extra virgin called Laudemio. It's made by the Frescobaldi family, one of the big, old families in Florence (along with the Puccis and the Ferragamos) known mainly for their award-winning "Super Tuscan" wines. It is a bit pricier than the average bottle of olive oil ($35 to $40 a bottle), but the flavor is so incredible that you won't regret it. In Italy they say the test of a good oil is one that can be drizzled over fresh cooked gnocchi and enjoyed as is with no additional flavors. This is definitely one of those oils.

The fruitiness of the oil contrasts well with the hazelnuts and silky cocoa powder. If you don't have hazelnut meal (also a Whole Foods buy), you can replace it with ground almonds or pecans--just be sure to toast them before grinding to remove the excess moisture, which is key to keeping your torte light. A teaspoon of baking powder gives the cake a little lift, but feel free to skip if you don't have any on hand or want to avoid for dietary reasons  (this also makes a great Seder cake for Passover).

I think you'll be surprised with the texture of this cake. Most flourless tortes tend to be very dense and almost pudding-like, but this one is very light and nutty. You'll swear there is flour in it when it comes out of the oven. It almost made me wonder if some kind of kitchen poltergeist tossed some into the Kitchen Aid while I had my back turned

(I have kind of an overactive imagination sometimes.) (Or most of the time...).



Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
I was originally going to top this with a bittersweet chocolate ganache,
but it came out so perfect that I decided to skip that and just rely on the
great flavors of the cake. I suggest serving with a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a little dollop of homemade whipped cream on the side.


Ingredients
2 cups hazelnut meal (you can also substitute almond or walnut meal)
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons good cocoa powder
1 cup granulated white sugar (for low-carb, you can use granulated Splenda)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9" round or springform pan.Combine the dry ingredients in an electric mixer or food processor and pulse a few times. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the oil, water, and extract. Continue to mix at high speed for 2-3 minutes to work some air into the batter.

Pour into your greased pan and place in the oven. Bake about 40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once it's ready, remove from the oven and let cool. You can store in the fridge, but be sure to serve at room temperature for the best flavor. Enjoy!






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JK's Salmon and Avocado Salad and Why a "torte" is not the same thing as a "tart."


While we were growing up, my family regularly went out to dinner to one of a few favorite restaurants all located within ten minutes of our home. North Jersey being what it is, the majority of these were Italian and featured similar menus heavy with aromatic red sauces and wonderful stuffed, breaded, fried things.

I loved these places, with their bowls of crusty bread just perfect for mopping up sauce and the ever present sounds of Dean and Frank flowing in from the loudspeakers. Whenever my father would ask us where we wanted to go, I would invariably shout out the name of one of the Italian places, my mouth already drooling at the thought of a garlicky clam sauce or perhaps even my favorite--veal Milanese.

I didn't always get my way, however (the nerve!), and so we occasionally ended up going to my mother's favorite: Park & Orchard.

Located in an old renovated factory, Park & Orchard is a cavernous beast of a restaurant with black and white chess board floors and exposed pipes overhead. The place is always packed and the bar overflows with North Jersey-ites sipping cocktails or watching the game while waiting for a table. The wait for a table was usually long, but as regulars, we often were slipped in just a couple minutes after our arrival. The coolest thing about this place is that, despite the fact that it's located in East Rutherford, NJ (home to Giants Stadium and the kind of establishments that feature such shady [and grammatically questionable] lunch specials as: "Pasta, Boobs, Breadsticks--All You Can Eat!" or "Nude Soup!"), the restaurant has the same cool, urban feel as many of my favorite spots here in New York.

I love that they take pride in their ingredients. They serve only fresh, whole foods--no white sugar, bleached flours, food coloring, or preservatives of any kind, and even feature a Celiac menu for those who suffer from wheat or gluten allergies. All their food is prepared in stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans (no Teflon) and they only bake in glass or tin. The fresh-baked loaves of whole wheat bread they serve with dishes of organic olive oil are a far cry from those light-as-air rolls from the Italian joints, but just as good--if not better!

The funny thing is that, though I've accompanied my family there dozens of times over the past 15 years (and even a couple times on dates or with friends), I have only ever ordered the exact same meal. The only thing that has changed over the years is the beverage. When I was young it was a Knudson's Black Cherry Spritzer; around age 16 or 17 it became wine, served without questions and with my father's blessing.

This perfect meal which I have consumed on so many occasions is this: A mixed green salad served with the house Oriental Ginger dressing, followed by an entree called JK's Pasta: a spicy linguine dish tossed with chunks of salmon sauteed in olive oil, with garlic, tomatoes, herbs, crushed red pepper, and scallions. Dessert was a rich chocolate torte with a graham cracker crust served in a butterscotch puddle. It was heavenly and I always ordered it even if I felt like I couldn't swallow another bite. I occasionally accompanied this with a little sifter of Amaretto (I was kind of a boozy teen).

My only complaint, one which to the chagrin of my parents and annoyance of my brother I voiced on multiple occasions to the waiters and chef when they came by to ask if "everything is all right?" is that the dessert that they called a "torte," was in actuality a "tart." The difference of course being that a tart is a pie-like crust or shell filled with a prepared filling such as pastry cream or chocolate ganache (as was the case here). A "torte" is a really a variation of a cake, often made with thin dense layers made with ground nut meals and eggs, and alternated with layers of ganache or buttercream icing. As this was very obviously a ganache in a pie-like crust (therefore a tart), I was quite frustrated that the error was never acknowledged. I would usually go on about this for several minutes while I swirled my fork around my butterscotch puddle, only stopping when my brother (who openly finds me nerdy and insufferable) would finally have enough of my babbling about the Italian origins of the word "torte" and would shout at me: "Nanda! Shut up! No one cares!"*

It's actually been quite a while since I've had that meal, but I often try to recreate those flavors here at home. Tonight, while leaning against my open refrigerator door contemplating my dinner options, I remembered that I still had a rather large piece of grilled salmon left over from Saturday. Not really in the mood for a heavy pasta dish, I decided to create a salmon salad that uses the same ingredients in JK's Pasta (well, plus the addition of an avocado that absolutely had to be eaten today). The results were so good that I had to stop myself from eating it all straight from the pan so that I could plate and photograph it mediocrely for you.

As I write this today I realized that having been so fixated with the torte vs. tart debacle, I never really quite got around to asking just who JK is. I'd like to think that he'd be pleased with my salmon salad, though, and so I'm going to name it after him.

*Many years later, in culinary school, I shared this story with my chef in my Chocolate & Confections course and was relieved that he was just as horrified as I at such a blatant error in pastry-naming. It took me ten years and a trip across the Atlantic, but I finally found a sympathetic ear.

JK's Salmon and Avocado Salad
I had a good piece of leftover grilled salmon in the fridge when I came up with this recipe, but you're welcome to use whatever you have in your fridge or pantry. This could work just as well with smoked salmon fillets (not lox) or canned salmon or tuna (drained). You could even use chicken or tofu, if you're so inclined. The key is really in the combination of fresh flavors...

Ingredients
(for one, multiply if serving more)
4 to 5 ounces of grilled salmon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 ripe avocado
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or hot chili oil
1 handful chopped Italian parsley
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (optional)
Course sea salt
Crushed black pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil

1. Flake the salmon and drizzle with a 1-2 count* of olive oil. Toss with a pinch of sea salt and a dash of black pepper, then set aside.

2. Preheat a large skillet over low heat then add three counts of olive oil. Raise to medium-high and toss in the garlic cloves, shaking around in the pan and cooking until just golden.

3. When the garlic is ready, add the crushed red pepper and cook for another 15 seconds.

4. Add the seasoned salmon to the pan. Squeeze about half the lime juice in and add the tomatoes and scallions. Saute for one or two minutes, just enough to let all the flavors meld (as the fish should already be cooked).

5. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer everything
into a large bowl and add the sour cream, blending until just combined. Add the
paprika if using, and test for seasoning. Adjust accordingly with sea salt and pepper.

6. Mix in the diced avocado cubes and your done! Serve on crackers or over
a bed of mixed greens with a few extra tomatoes and a wedge of lime on the side.


*A 1-2 count is literally that: Count while you drizzle the oil. So for two
counts, you count to two, for four counts, you count to four, etc. It's not
exact, nor should it be. Try not to rely too much on measurements and instead
work on getting comfortable with the ingredients, judging for yourself what
seems about right. Trust your instincts.

Coconut Ricotta Rum Ice Cream


My little brother and I are pretty weird about gift giving. Since our birthdays, which are in February, are only two weeks apart, we tend to view the process as more of a business transaction than anything else. We have a tradition (much to our parents' dismay) of making deals like "How about you just buy yourself something and I'll buy myself something and we'll call it even?" For Christmas we'll sometimes just pick items of similar value off Amazon and have them shipped to my parents house for exchange.

This year, I got Gab Guitar Hero III for his PS3 and he got me the kitchen gadget I've been lusting for all year: a Cuisinart ice cream maker.

From the minute I opened my Amazon box (sans wrapping paper and with receipt enclosed, mind you), I was completely consumed with the prospect of making fantastic new ice cream recipes. Nearly everything that crosses my path is considered for freezing: a perfectly ripe avocado given to me as a gift by the cute bodega owner's son, a pot of leftover ginger tea, even a savory almond gazpacho recipe I saw on Padma Lakshmi's Food Network travel show, which I thought would make a really interesting savory sorbet to serve along with a grilled shrimp salad.

I'm sure that at one point or another I'll try those recipes out, but for now I've been sticking with the sweet stuff. I just made my fourth type of ice cream last night, and have to say that it is my favorite.

The recipe for this ice cream is based on a quick coconut pudding I often make myself when I'm craving something sweet, but don't want to go to too much trouble to bake or run out to the store. I'd write the recipe out for you, but there really isn't much to it: just a scoop of ricotta thinned with a couple tablespoons of coconut milk and sweetened with half a packet of Splenda. I pop this in the microwave for thirty seconds and then sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg on top. The flavors are warm and nutty, and very reminiscent of a traditional Puerto Rican beverage called Coquito. Coquito is to Puerto Ricans what Egg Nog is to everyone else. Made with a blend of coconut cream, milk, spices, and dark rum (lots and lots of dark rum), the drink is traditionally served at Christmas and New Years parties or prepared and given as gifts to friends and family members.

I decided to build off of these nostalgic flavors and turn the pudding into a base for a frozen ricotta ice cream. Ricotta is wonderful in desserts. Not really a cheese, Ricotta is Italian for "re-cooked," a reference to the two-step process of recooking the leftover whey strained from the production of other cheeses like Mozzarella and Provolone. In Italy, a typical store will carry dozens of fresh ricotta. Here, we're usually limited to store brand ricotta, although the fancy stuff is available. If you can find it, use it. It'll make an incredible difference.

The genius of ricotta is that the creamy curds retain their texture even after processing and freezing, giving the final dessert a rich mouth feel very different from that of the milk or cream-based ones. In this recipe, the naturally low fat content of the ricotta is off-set by the richness of the coconut milk, producing a perfectly creamy balance.

A word about sugar:
For the past few months, I've been making an effort to reduce the amount of refined sugars and flours I consume while also keeping the carb count low. You'll see this reflected in many of my recipes where I offer you options for using substitutes like Splenda, ground nut meals, or high-fiber whole grains.

For those with glucose regulation concerns, ice cream can be one of the best low carb treats available since it can be (and actually tastes best) made using whole ingredients like heavy cream, egg yolks, and nuts or berries as flavoring. Keep in mind that when using Splenda (or any other sugar substitute) in custard based or infused recipes, it should be added after any heating has already occurred so as to avoid the breakdown of flavor.


****
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Coconut Ricotta Rum Ice Cream
The addition of rum to this ice cream is not just for the kick; the alcohol content also serves to keep the ice cream from freezing too hard when stored in the freezer thereby eliminating the need to set on the counter for a few minutes before serving. I like to serve myself a scoop straight from the ice cream maker and then pack the rest right into the empty ricotta container for storage. A dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon on top before serving makes for a lovely presentation. I sometimes like to sprinkle a bit of lime juice on top before serving--it brightens the flavor and makes it taste a little bit like a cocktail!

Ingredients
15 oz of part-skim ricotta
1 can coconut milk (check to make sure no sugar has been added or adjust recipe accordingly)
1 cup sugar or equivalent Splenda sweetener (24 packets/1 cup granulated)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dark Puerto Rican rum
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


1. In a blender or food processor, combine the ricotta, coconut milk, sugar, cream, water, and spices until smooth. About 3 minutes. Place in refrigerator and chill until cold.

2. Pour mix into your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

3. Once the ice cream reaches your preferred thickness, slowly drizzle in the 1/4 cup of rum into the ice cream maker and allow to process for an additional five minutes.

4. Remove from ice cream maker and either serve soft or pack into an air-tight container and freeze for an hour or two to harden.

Store ice cream in the freezer. It will keep for up to one week (that is, if you don't eat it all first!)

Smoky Deviled Egg Salad on Golden Rye Crisps

As much as I love to cook, there are some nights when I just don't have the energy to put much effort into it. It's on these nights that I pull out my "single girl" dinners--no, not Lean Cuisine--single girl dinners are those easy, go-to meals that you can fix in just a few minutes with minimal ingredients, but which somehow manage to satisfy each and every one of your deepest cravings. It's comfort food, tailored exactly to your very own (and often very peculiar) taste and preferences.

My single girl dinners tend to resemble an antipasti platter: hunks of cheese, roasted red peppers with bits of blackened skin still clinging, hard boiled eggs, olives, fat red grapes, and slices of salami or prosciutto eaten one-by-one, usually pulled straight from the plastic package. Basically anything tasty that I happen to find in the fridge. An ardent lover of mayonnaise, I'll often drop a dab on my little mini party platters for dipping or just licking off my fingers--something that I could never do in front of other people without fear of completely grossing them out.

I've realized that my single girl dinner habits came straight from my mom. On the nights when my dad was appearing at an event and my brother was out with friends, my mom would skip the preparation of a full meal and we'd instead sit down to a makeshift dinner of crackers, rolled up salami, hunks of cheese, and generous dollops of mayonnaise. We'd work our way through an entire package of cold cuts or crackers, making tiny sandwiches and talking about our days or anything else that was on our minds. I loved these dinners, and sometimes even preferred them to the full meals my mom made when my dad and brother were around. The men in my family have never really understood how my mother and I can be satisfied with a dinner of just a few crackers and cheese. "But that's not real food," my dad would say when he would come back to find empty salami packages and no leftovers. But to my mom and me, it's always been the most real.

While thinking up ideas for recipes to share, I keep finding myself coming back to these basic foods that I love. I'm learning that there is value in the things we eat when we're alone and perhaps in need of a bit of comfort. When cooking for yourself or for your loved ones, think back to thing things you instantly grab for when we're not trying to impress or worrying about the scale. It is from these ingredients that your most memorable meals will come.



Smoky Deviled Egg Salad on Golden Rye CrispsI love eggs and mayonnaise. If I were ever asked to pick a few desert island foods, these two would definitely be on the lists. This recipe starts out as one of the most basic of all comfort foods: the egg sandwich, and then elevates it to the next level. I’ve replaced the usual soft deli rye with a nutty Danish crisp bread to add a nice bit of crunch. I also use homemade mayonnaise (recipe at the end). The real key ingredient, however, is the smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera), which can usually be purchased at gourmet supermarkets or specialty stores. If you can’t find this spice near you, you can certainly replace it with the more commonly found Hungarian paprika, but note that you will lose out on the smoky heat of the Spanish version. I’ve included a link at the end for an online supplier for those of you who can’t find it elsewhere.
Ingredients3 medium eggs
2 slices of golden rye Danish crisp bread (suggested brands: Wasa, Kavli)
2 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise (recipe below)
1 heaping teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika (also known as Pimenton de la Vera)
Fresh cracked pepper
Course sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly chopped dill


1. Place the eggs in a saucepan filled with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 7 to 8 minutes then remove from heat. Peel the eggs under cold running water to keep your fingers from burning and then coarsely chop and place in a bowl.

2. Add the mayonnaise and paprika to the chopped eggs and mix well. The paprika should turn the mix a lovely orange color. Season to taste with course sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

3. Arrange two slices of crispbread on a plate with nutty side up. Top each one with half of the egg salad mixture. Garnish with a sprinkle of dill before serving.




Homemade MayonnaiseThis recipe might read a bit complicated, but it’s really just about patience. An electric mixer or food processor makes it a snap!! Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with the use of different oils or the addition of herbs and spices—I’ve included a couple variations at the end. Perfect in the Smoky Deviled Egg Salad or as a dipping sauce for French Fries.

Ingredients2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon powdered mustard seed
Pinch of sugar
4 to 5 teaspoons of lemon juice (or white vinegar)
1 ½ cups olive, soy, or canola oil

1. Combine the egg yolks, mustard powder, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar/lemon juice in the base of an electric mixer and beat until the yolks double into a creamy, pale yellow.

2. Lower the mixer to medium speed and slowly drizzle in the first ¼ cup of oil.

3. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice

4. Drizzle in another ¼ of olive oil, a few drops at a time, making sure that it is all combined before adding the next drops.

5. Follow with another teaspoon of lemon juice.

6. Add ½ cup of oil in a steady stream and then the remaining lemon juice.

7. Drizzle in the remaining oil. If it’s too thick for your taste, finish by thinning out with a tablespoon or two of hot water.

Cover and refrigerate. Will keep in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.

Variations:
Aioli:
For every ½ cup of prepared mayonnaise, whisk in: 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped coriander and salt and pepper to taste.

Meyer Lemon Mayo: Use juice from fragrant Meyer lemons in original recipe. Finish with a teaspoon of Meyer lemon zest, and some fresh cracked pepper.

Chipotle Mayo: Prepare mayonnaise then blend in a processor with 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika, and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Remoulade: Blend 1 cup prepared mayo with 1 tablespoon each of: minced cornichons, capers, garlic clove, chopped parsley, chopped tarragon, and spicy Dijon mustard. Finish with a few drops of red pepper sauce.


Where to Buy
The Spice House, based out of Chicago, offers all kinds of hard-to-find herbs, spices, and spice mixtures. Click here for Smoked Spanish Paprika.

Ginger Tea with Nutmeg


In high school I used to lure my best friends Vanessa and Sara over to my house with promises of comforting foods and home baked sweets. An obsessive (if still amateur) cook by the age of 14, I was constantly making a mess of my mother's kitchen with one concoction after another. While my brother and father were the usual guinea pigs for these experiments, I occasionally bestowed the honor upon my friends.

"So do you want to come over? I made chili last night," I'd say as we stood in our perpetually drooping knee socks waiting for NJ Transit bus #163 to pick us up outside our school.

Though undoubtedly a tempting offer, the girls always hesitated because they knew that accepting could potentially mean having to take a second bus home afterwards if they could not find another ride. Sara rarely needed more than a promise that she could nap on my bed to accept. (Always a remarkably sleepy girl, we nicknamed her "the dormouse" after the mouse in Alice in Wonderland who was always falling asleep in strange places.)
Vanessa, however, sometimes needed a bit more coaxing. Fortunately, I quickly discovered the one thing that would always get a yes:

"I'll make you ginger tea with nutmeg..."

To this day, the promise of ginger tea is often enough to lure Vanessa from her apartment in Queens to mine in Harlem.


Ginger Tea with Nutmeg
I learned this recipe from my mother who used to make it for me whenever I was feeling sick. This spicy tea is easy to make, and because of the strength of the root, can last you up to two days as long as you keep adding fresh water to the pot. Ginger Tea is perfect for sharing with friends on a cold winter's night and is definitely worth the long trip home (even on public transportation).

Ingredients
1/2 cup thinly sliced or chopped fresh ginger. (No need to peel.)
5 cups of water
brown sugar or honey to taste
milk*
nutmeg

1. Combine the water and fresh ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 to 45 minutes, being careful not to let the water evaporate. Note that the longer you simmer, the stronger and spicier the tea.

2. When the tea reaches your desired strength, remove from heat and strain into big mugs.
3. Sweeten each serving to taste, and pour in just enough milk to turn it white. Finish off with a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg and serve.


*If you would like to skip the milk, a squeeze of lemon mixed in with the honey will
serve to brighten the flavor.

"First, we eat. Then we do everything else."

I love many things, but there are only two that I would consider my true passions: the written word and food.

In my other blog, sent from my dell desktop, I devote myself to the former. Over the course of the past two years, I have attempted to use the written word to capture and express both the significant and significantly mundane moments in my life. Conspicuously absent from that blog, however, is the everpresent role food plays in my life--both cooking and eating. For reasons I don't yet understand, it seems that I have edited out that entire portion of my life.

I'm not sure why I did this. I think at some point those stories just didn't seem relevant to the overall theme or tone of the blog. Or perhaps it was that they just felt off topic. Make no mistake, their absence belies their importance.

Today I decided that these moments can no longer stay locked away in my journals and memory. So, instead of waiting for the appropriate time or venue to appear, I have gone ahead and created it. In here I plan to serve you overflowing portions of the culinary moments of my life--with recipes. And perhaps even photos (of the slightly out of focus variety).

Feel free to ask for seconds. And remember to save room for dessert...

xxA

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